Saturday, March 20, 2010

 

Fighter Planes and the Future of Technological Civilization

Here’s an item that is helpful in showing how the times are changing. According to F-35 fighter fleet’s price may be double forecast, the “bill for 2,443 F-35s is currently estimated at $278 billion to $329 billion, up from the $197 billion projected when the development program began in October 2001.” The article blames this on inflation, but there’s a need to clarify this. There is in fact a lot of deflation going on right now, so what’s going to make these fighters go up in price? In a word, energy. Each of the fighters embodies a very large amount of energy in the form of high technology. It’s the technology, not the materials themselves, which account for most of the price. There’s a lot of expertise involved in design and construction. All those engineers and skilled workers need years of education and training, which is made possible by energy. Lots of it. So when you start looking into all the inputs, there’s an impressive amount of energy expended on just one fighter. And because energy will likely become more expensive, these aircraft will likewise become more expensive.

As a corollary to this, much money has to be expended on education if we want to maintain technological expertise and keep expanding it. Yet, in countries like the US and UK, education is suffering big reductions through budget cuts, school closings, and the like. If the amount of energy spent on education declines, we can expect a corresponding decline in the general level of expertise, which will lead in turn to the decline of technological civilization.



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